I spent a fair amount of time this afternoon writing a bit of a defense of why a program should ask their faculty to explore a Domain of One’s Own. Thinkers like Martha Burtis and Audrey Watters have made the case much better than me, but I figured I’d try and take a crack at it as well. Seems to me the biggest issue folks have with Domains, and they are certainly justified, is that it can start to get too technical. Asking folks to use web hosting software like cPanel demands focused training, significant support, and a rationale for why you are asking them to go beyond setting up a blog on something like wordpress.com.
It’s a fair question, and I tend to take the value of having your own domain and web hosting (as well as the time and energy required to maintain it) for granted, so I tried to make the case. Not sure if I succeeded, but I’ll share my response below knowing full well it’ll be that much better for your critiques and feedback.
Is Domains the right tool?
It’s a good question, and I’ll try and give it my best answer 🙂 For me the answer would ultimately return to what you want folks to get out of their time. I do think that providing faculty a space to build out a course site, web page, portfolio is valuable, but there are many tools you can do that with: the LMS, wordpress.com, wikipedia, blogger, Wix, Squarespace, etc. Why give them access to cPanel and wide range of options? The biggest reason in my mind would be domains provides an opportunity to dive deeper into the infrastructure and architecture that is increasingly shaping the information landscape. What’s more, I whole heartedly think having an understanding of how the web works, and how you can build your own spaces online outside of third-party controls is an important skill. I don’t necessarily think Domains is the only way to do this, but it does provide one way of building a curriculum around how the web works and what it means for teaching and learning.
I guess if you really want to incorporate domains as part of your program, one of the foundations would be asking faculty to dig a bit deeper. This does not mean they need to become sysadmins or programmers, but they would need to get a strong sense of how these infrastructures work and what is possible with open source tools like WordPress. This would mean discussions about open source applications, running multiple applications, encrypting your site, exploring plugins and themes, information architecture, files structure, file naming, archiving, etc. All things that push against the seamless solutions that often elide the underlying logic of the how and why these tools work. So, a domains initiative without a focus on the technology that undergirds the web never really made much sense to me, I think that is why OER focuses so much on textbooks—it’s simple, it has already been defined for decades and has been something we’ve known our whole life. Only difference now is it is being remediated for online, its “digital” —but a book is a book is a book. Domains is about infrastructure and the very means of how contemporary world views are built on this decentralized lattice of machines, and helping faculty become a node on this web should be the raison d’être of any domains initiative.
All that said, I certainly see the value of easy and can definitely appreciate a tech initiative for faculty without too much confusing overhead, but in some ways a curriculum around domains should resist the impulse to simplify too much. It should ask its participants to struggle with some of the issues surrounding what these digital spaces mean for their disciplines—and to some degree that would require thinking through how they work on a technical level. I understand this might be seen as potentially dogmatic, and I certainly run that risk, but it is hard for me to separate a meaningful experience with domains from a deeper interrogation of the technology that the web is built on. I think it would be up to you to sell that to faculty and participants so that your program is about more than just building a website, but a deeper understanding of the web. Then again, this may be far afield from what you intended with the project, and a simple website would be fine, and on that you would get no argument from me—I just think domains as an academic enterprise has to be about the foundations of the web and how we can build and rebuild it.